The cloud is changing the way companies operate their infrastructure, plan their budgets and manage their employees. So, progressive VARs are morphing into providers of cloud integration services. These savvy partners have learned that there's a time and place to start having the conversation with customers about which applications to put in the cloud and which to keep on premises, and that this time is now.
"If we're not having conversations with our customers about data, how to get to the cloud and how to recover from the cloud, then someone else is," said Alan McDonald, president and CEO of Allconnected Inc.
For partners who want to thrive as successful cloud integrators, detailed conversations with customers about public, private and hybrid clouds are essential.
"The cloud conversation comes up with 10 out of 10 customers when faced with a technology refresh, and about 50 percent of customers when addressing their technology infrastructure more generally," McDonald said.
Cloud integration services considerations
There's a long list of considerations that businesses must address when deciding which apps should be placed in the cloud and which are best kept on-premises. Most companies are at a loss to make these decisions, but cloud integrators can provide customers with the expertise to make those important calls.
Jason Bystrak, sales director for Ingram Micro's services division, reports that today channel partners are focusing on cloud solution infrastructure in areas such as backup services, business continuity, hosted email, private cloud and cloud-based security solutions.
Bystrak has a list of red flags that indicate the need for a cloud discussion. These points include: a refresh opportunity, introduction of new business applications, a move toward increased mobility and productivity, the need to lower IT management costs, new test and development, and speed to market.
"Anytime a partner is having a conversation with a customer about plans for IT in any of these areas is good time to evaluate cloud," Bystrak said.
For Allconnected, a key driver of the cloud conversation with customers is to first think about the data. Some examples of what to think about and questions to ask include:
- Where is the data?
- How do I move the data once I put it there?
- Is it safe?
- How do I get to it?
- Who manages it?
- What control am I giving up?
- What is the cost to get in?
- What is the cost to get out?
- If I lost my data, then what? What's my plan B?
McDonald notes that the conversation about data drives more awareness about the nitty-gritty of cloud contracts, such as who is responsible for data loss and what it means to ensure customers buy into a good contract.
Other considerations related to which apps to put in the cloud or keep on-premises revolve around performance expectations, connectivity, disaster recovery and business continuity.
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Heartland Technology Solutions, for example, works with customers located in rural locations that struggle with connectivity and performance. Optimal connectivity is an issue in deciding to use cloud. Pockets of poor performance can be a factor in deciding which apps to put in the cloud and which to keep on-premises. "For some of our customers, broadband connectivity can be an issue and a showstopper for cloud," said Dennis O'Connell, senior account executive at Heartland.
Conversations about keeping applications on-premises also vary depending on industry-specific solutions, O'Connell said. "This is a consultative sale that includes addressing our list of our five key considerations -- connectivity, business decisions around Capex or Opex, staying current on releases, security of data, and what happens if a provider of choice goes out of business."
One example of how an industry-specific solution can change a cloud decision is that some states require that companies doing business with them use cloud solutions. Some of O'Connell's customers work with manufacturers that offer the option to bring an application in-house or use a subscription-based cloud offering in order to do business with them.
The bottom line is that the client must own the decision because they're usually looking at a five-year time period for return on investment, he added.
Cloud integration services address security policies
Security of data is also a vital discussion for a cloud integrator to have with customers when it comes to putting apps in the cloud, particularly when it comes to public cloud app services. This security addresses both access to the data and data backup.
Vendor policies in this area vary, with some app service providers taking a hands-off policy -- i.e., they don't look at it and they don't mine it -- as opposed to other vendors who do mine the data on their servers. As for data backup, large vendors tend to ensure data backup, but policies may change when it comes to smaller, more local app-service providers.
For smaller companies, cloud-based applications offer them new sources of productivity that might not otherwise be affordable. Depending on the size of the company and available resources, the decision to use public cloud-based applications, for example, may take on a different risk/reward consideration, which partners must help customers understand. It is the partner's role in this case to help define what options are best for each individual customer, and what policies will provide clients with the most security.
Application control: Key factor cloud integration services decision
Control of cloud-based applications is very much a vital decision-making factor for many companies, according to partners, with cloud often viewed as a necessary evil. While cloud can offer many advantages, it also forces companies to loosen the grip on application control.
Some companies may choose the private cloud option to still maintain a sense of control. Some Allconnected customers select this option when looking for control of apps, and use a single user sign-on and more flexible recovery options.
McDonald reports that some cloud app providers, such as Salesforce.com, will actually give a customer an application programming interface (API). This way, they can back up their own data, adding more flexibility and control for the customer while still taking advantage of the options cloud provides.
Salesforce publishes APIs that allow customers to extract data from their hosted customer relationship management (CRM) environments so companies like Allconnected can help customers backup their own data, giving them a backup plan for recovery. Earlier this month, Asigra introduced Asigra Cloud Backup v12 for cloud-to-cloud backup and virtual disaster recover, supporting both Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS). That means, for example, that users can regain control of their Salesforce.com backup data while maintaining security.